The Beautiful Gate
Dedicated to Mary and Bob Blattner
"Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'" (Matt. 23:37-39).
Though I am returned home to Neosho, MO, as I physically write this journal, the Lord began writing it in my spirit and on my mind when we first arrived in Jerusalem on March 17th. Through the everlasting goodness of the Lord and the marvelous generosity of my sister Mary Blattner and her husband Bob, Lenny and I were privileged to enjoy an all expense paid trip to Israel, from which we've just returned. At least our bodies are here. My mind and heart were captured by the land of our spiritual forefathers, and my mind continually returns to the homeland of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elijah, Moses, Gideon, King David, and of course, Jesus. Though countless tourist dollars are generated by billing these tours as "walking in the footsteps of Jesus," predictably, I did not really feel like I was walking in the footsteps of Jesus while we were there, no doubt because He walks in my shoes, lives in my heart, and flows in my life every minute of every day. I did have a powerful encounter with the sweet presence of the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, but for the most part, I did not feel any closer in spirit to Him there than I do everyday right here at home. This was not a disappointment to me, but rather a confirmation of what God has been showing Lenny and Me for a long while now. For most Pilgrims who visit the ornate icons and many faceted symbolism of the many "holy sites" of the land, Christ is most surely "an other" from the worshippers. He is Someone the pilgrim comes to find a renewed relationship with, Someone who is far removed from his everyday life. As I've said, that was not the case with me, but on the other hand, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the other actors on God's vast stage are indeed "an other" from me, so I did feel closer to them and the stories they lived out by walking through the land where they encountered the Holy One of Israel.
For instance, we stood in the Valley of Elah where David slew Goliath. (See I Sam. 17.) It was thrilling to be in the very place where David asked his famous question, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?" (I Sam. 17:26). We listened to our Israeli guide read the story out of his Bible, translating from Hebrew into English as he went, and wondered anew at God's care and miraculous provision for His people. I picked up a smooth stone from the brook for our grandson Harrison as a witness to him and to me that God's might overcomes the strongest foes, even when our weapons of warfare are pitiful and small.
We passed by Bedouin camps within plain view of the super highways. Our guide said that they live today much the same as Abraham lived, except for the tractors, of course. They still camp only where there is water, live in goat hair tents, tend their sheep and goats, and live with the same societal rules that governed Abraham's family life, including multiple wives. The women do all the work, which our Israeli guide remarked with a twinkle in his eye, is as it should be. He said the only domestic task they perform is making coffee, which involves roasting the raw beans, grinding them, and brewing them into a very strong drink. We had some Turkish coffee one day in a shop, and as my Mother would describe it, "It was strong enough to bear up an egg." The story goes that Bedouin men can't be burdened with work because they need to be free to leap on their camels or donkeys and fight off any intruders who may be threatening. The state of Israel does provide education for their children, but as it has ever been, only the males will get the benefits of attending school because the females must stay home and help their mothers with the domestic work, which is considerable. They have no electricity, but some of them do heat with gas heaters. They still live their primitive, nomadic life within a very short driving distance from the metropolitan city of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, a city set on a hill, the city of the great king (Matt. 5:35), was my favorite place in all the land of Israel. The sweet singer of Israel said of it, "It is beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth. Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King" (Ps. 48:2). I felt great peace on the mount of beatitudes, enjoyed the calm of sailing on the Sea of Galilee, drank in the beauty of the place where Gideon's spring is located, was awed by the architecture still remaining of the Roman theater in Caesarea, where Paul stood before Festus and King Agrippa and explained "the way" to them (Acts 25:22-26:1-32). But what captured my heart and emotions beyond any expectation was the city of Jerusalem, the place where God dwelt on Mount Zion (Isa. 8:18). Isaiah prophesied, "The moon will be abashed, the sun ashamed; for the LORD Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders, gloriously" (Isa. 24:23). Yet in spite of economic renewal and much restoration of the structures destroyed by every invader over the centuries, Jerusalem is still, in many ways, a house which is forsaken and desolate. In 1997, when Lenny and I were going through our great "economic downturn" the Lord gave me a song with words and music which I believe is prophetic. The words of the second verse came to me over and over while we were there and since we returned. I woke up one night with them ringing in my head:
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, why have you gone astray?
The prophets and the priests of God
said there would come a day,
when God would take you by the hand
wherever you may roam;
He'll go upon the mountain dark
and lead His sheep back home."
The lovely City of David still sits upon the mountain dark, spiritually speaking, and in spite of religious trappings everywhere, there appears to be very little connection to the kingdom of God within. When I first got there, the Lord began to impress upon me that Israel is NOT the Holy Land, as millions refer to it. God's Holy Land is within us. As Lenny put it several times, everything we saw over there, just like everything in the Old Testament, is a type and shadow of things to come. Amid the wondrous memories we brought home, I carry a sadness in my spirit that so many are still trying to get life from a shadow, when the reality lives in their hearts.
The people who put together our tour, and Dr. Jim Farley, the Pastor who organized it, did a good job of giving us the scriptural background for everything we saw, and our Israeli guide Yossi was a walking, talking encyclopedia of every aspect of our experiences. As a brief background, the city of Jerusalem itself is very ancient, and in King David's time, was called Jebus (I Chr. 11:4), because it was controlled by the Jebusites who lived in the hill country (Num. 13:29; Judges 1:21). David had been crowned king in Hebron, and reigned there seven years and six months before he captured Jerusalem, from which he reigned over Israel and Judah thirty three years (II Sam. 5:5). The city sits on top of Mount Moriah, the very place where God sent Abraham to go and sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:2). Its elevation of 2,500 feet above the plain below provides deep valleys on three sides of it, making it easily defended. Calling it "the fortress of Zion," (II Sam. 5:7) "David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the supporting terraces inward" (II Sam. 5:9).
On the south western side of the city, lies the Valley of Hinnom, also known in the Bible as Topheth. (II Kings 23:10; Is. 30:33; Jer. 7:31-32). Jeremiah lamented the unspeakable offenses that were committed there: "They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire, something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. So beware, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room" (Jer. 7:31-32). Thus the Prophet describes some very dark days in the history of the children of Israel when they sacrificed their children to the pagan god Molech. The Hebrew name of the Valley, "Gei Ben Hinnom" ("Gehenna"), became synonymous with "Hell," and in fact the word is rendered "hell" in most Bible translations today. Since researching the subject for my 1998 journal entitled, "The Primrose Path to Gehenna" (End Note A), I have been interested in this place. As we drove through it, our Israeli guide said, "Now, you can go home and tell your friends that you have been to hell and back." It is another example of how the Western church has taken Biblical topics and interpreted them literally rather than symbolically as they were intended. When Jesus talked about hell, the place where the fire cannot be quenched and the worm never dies (Mk. 9:48), the Hebrew word "Gehenna" which is used there, is inaccurately translated "Hell." This is one reason that the concept of hell came to mean everlasting torment. The common reasoning was that if the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched, then Jesus must have been referring to everlasting punishment. Jesus' listeners knew very well that he referred to the Valley of Hinnom, where indeed, the fires were kept burning day and night to incinerate the dead bodies of criminals, animals, refuse and offal. He used the word "Gehenna" symbolically, to make His point, but an entire theology of everlasting punishment has been built around it, much to the spiritual detriment of those of us who grew up under hell fire and damnation teaching.
One of the most interesting things I had confirmed for me in Israel was the fact that the Hebrew mind and language expresses itself in symbols, whereas the Western mind and language tends to express itself literally, supported by facts. A good example of this is found at the Shrine of the Book, a unique structure especially designed to house the Dead Sea Scrolls. It's a part of the Israel Museum and was designed by a famous architect (whose name I cannot now recall) to reflect the significance of the find. Here's a scanned picture of the structure, which will explain my point about symbolism. When we saw it, our guide asked us to guess what it symbolized. Many took a stab at it. I hadn't a clue, since I was pretty sure it was not a sombrero, the only thing I could think of. It turns out that it represents the nipple of a human breast. Why was this symbol used? Because, explained our guide, the Word of God, found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, is life and meat to the human spirit even as breast milk is to the newborn infant.
The Shrine of the Book
That conversation made me think of one of the names of God, "El Shaddai," and so I asked Yossi, our guide, what it means in Hebrew. He said, "Lord God Almighty," and, "my breast." I had heard that it meant "many breasted one," but I remarked to him that this is the feminine aspect of God expressed in a name. "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them" (Gen. 1:27). He didn't comment on that, but I could tell by his expression that he was thinking about it.
The old City of Jerusalem is divided into four sections: Muslim, Jewish, Armenian, and Christian. The Christian section reflects both Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Protestant traditions. We attended Sunday service at St. Andrew's Church, a Presbyterian fellowship of "the Kirk" as it is often called in Scotland, and I am indebted to the Revd. Maxwell Craig for a wonderful service of song and an excellent sermon about the grace and sovereignty of God (especially appreciated in the land of Moses) as well as some informative pamphlets they provided for us. From these, I learned that 85% of local Christians are Palestinian Arabs, the largest number of which belong to the Greek Orthodox Church.
Star of Bethlehem in the Church of the Nativity
We visited two of their holy sites, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Most Protestants are unfamiliar with and perhaps even surprised at the icons and statues found in Roman Catholic Churches, but the Greek Orthodox Church is even more ornate and opulent. I quote from the pamphlet we were given, "Although it is deeply Biblical, Orthodox spirituality is built on 'adoring the Mystery' more than on cerebral understanding." I think this phrase aptly describes the difference between Eastern and Western tradition, not only concerning religion, but almost everything else. The East went in the direction of the intuitive and the mystical and the West went cognitive and rational. The differences between us are so vast that it is clear we have polar opposites in play here, which has caused a great deal of the problems when we try to dialogue with or even understand each other. I felt that Pope John Paul went a long way to bridge this gap when he placed a written prayer for forgiveness for sins Christians had committed against the Jewish people at the Wailing Wall. In my mind, it spoke to the Jewish Nation at a level beyond what words can convey.
The Western Wall
The western wall, formerly known as "the wailing wall" is considered one of the holiest sites in the Jewish nation. Men pray on the left side; women on the right. It is a very significant place for religious Jews as it is the only remaining remnant of the Second Temple, built initially in the sixth century BC and enlarged by Herod the Great during the first century BC. It was a part of the retaining walls that once enclosed the Herodian Temple Mount; so identified by original Herodian stones. Pilgrims come from all over the world to pray here, and many write their prayers on small pieces of paper and slip them into the cracks between the large stones. I thought it very sweet that my sister had her little girls, Angie and Sarah, each write a prayer to Jesus which they placed in the wall. It will make the experience real for them. Many worshipers rock back and forth as they read from their prayer books. When someone asked our guide about this, he said it was so their legs wouldn't go numb, causing them to fall down. By keeping in motion, they avoid that hazard and also stay awake, he said.
I found the discussion of Western Protestant churches very interesting. According to the author of the pamphlet we received at St. Andrew's, (written by the Rev. Phillipa Ott) there are almost as many reasons for being there as there are churches. Some churches were established to minister to pilgrims from their own countries; some preach the Gospel to the Israeli people; others wish to gain better relationships with the Jewish people. Still others seek reconciliation between Jews and Christians, and then there are what he calls the "Dispensationalists: fundamentalists, mostly American, who believe that the Jews must return to the Land, in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, before the Second Coming can happen. They see the task of the Church as being to support the State of Israel, rather than to seek the conversion of Jews."
This brings me to the Temple Mount itself, which has played such a role in God's dealings with Israel, beginning with the time He sent Abraham to the region of Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac. When God provided the ram, Abraham built an altar there and worshipped God (Gen. 22:2). Later, King David purchased the area from Araunah the Jebusite and erected an altar to God on the site, to stop the plague which God had brought upon the people as punishment because he had numbered the fighting men of Israel and Judah (II Sam. 24:16-25). The text reads, "When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the LORD, 'I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall upon me and my family.' On that day Gad (a prophet of God) went to David and said to him, 'Go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.' So David went up, as the LORD had commanded through Gad" (II Sam. 24:17-19). Later, both the First (Solomon's) and Second (Ezra/Herod's) Temples were built on this very spot (II Chr. 3:1).
"According to Jewish tradition, this summit serves as the center of the world, the foundation of the entire universe. David's son, King Solomon, erected the First Temple here and dedicated it in the tenth century BC. Countless sheep and oxen were slaughtered there to mark the dedication (I Kings 8:62). Construction of the temple lasted for seven years. The Palace Complex was built immediately to the south over a thirteen year period. During the invasion of Judah in 586 BC, the Babylonians totally destroyed the splendid First Temple and took the chief citizens of Judah into exile (II Kings 25)."
(Quotations here are from a booklet entitled, "The Holy Land" by Etty Boochny, Professional tour guide in the Holy Land and a licensed international tour manager. It was published by Steimatzky Ltd.)
The booklet goes on to tell about how Persian King Cyrus allowed the exiles to return home (538 BC). When they got there, they began work building the Second Temple. Led by Zerubbabel and Jeshua (Ezra 3-4), the Jews built the Second Temple and dedicated it around 515 BC. The book of Nehemiah tells about the rebuilding of the wall, which my study Bible says took only 52 days. Later, during the Hasmoneon period, the temple was defiled, and the Jews, led by Judas Maccabaeus, rose in armed revolt. "In 164 BC, the Temple was purified and restored as the people's spiritual center (I Macc. 4:36ff). This great victory of the Hasmoneans was and is celebrated by the Jews in the feast of Hanukkah, known in John's Gospel as "the Feast of Dedication" (John 10:22). It is also called "The Festival of Lights."
"In 37 BC, Herod the Great, with Roman support, was declared King of Judea. Prior to Jesus' birth Herod began to renovate the Temple in grand style. He extended the foundation with a double esplanade, arched supports, and massive retaining walls. The Temple Mount and the Temple itself were impressive for the technology employed to build it, its splendor and its size. The beauty of the temple was repeatedly mentioned by Josephus and other historians; even the Rabbis said, 'whosoever has not seen Herod's building [the Temple] has never seen a beautiful building' (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 4a). John's Gospel suggests the project took forty-six years to complete (John 2:20).
"However, the Second Temple lasted only until AD 70. Four years after the Jewish Revolt against Rome erupted, the Temple was destroyed by the Roman legions under the command of Titus. On the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, much of the city went up in flames and the Temple burned in the fire. As Jesus had prophesied, not one stone was left upon the other in its destruction." (Lk 19:44; 21:6).
The sad story goes on to relate that the Romans built a pagan temple dedicated to the god Jupiter, over the site on the Temple Mount and to add insult to injury, forbade the Jews to enter their holy city. Conquerors came and went, but in 614, the Persians conquered Jerusalem, during which time they burned many churches and monasteries. Ten years later, the besieged city fell into the hands of Muslim Arabs. "The Caliph Omar identified the Temple Mount as the spot where the prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven, and thereafter built a Mosque on the Mount."
The Dome of the Rock
Perhaps the most famous of the Islamic structures is The Dome of the Rock, erected directly above the rock where the Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven." I did not know this before the trip, but Muslims are expecting Muhammad to return as prophet to their Messiah.
The picture at the beginning of this writing is of the Beautiful Gate, which faces East toward the Mount of Olives. It is no doubt the gate for which the hymn, "I will meet you in the morning," is written. Our guide told us that in Jewish tradition, only the Messiah can open the gate, which has been sealed by Muslims for many years. Apparently, the Muslims put some stock in this theory, for they put one of their cemeteries right outside the gate, so that Elijah, whom they believe will precede the Messiah's coming, would not pass though. (Passing through a cemetery would make him ceremonially unclean [Lev. 21:11]. In this way, they hope to prevent the Jewish Messiah from coming.)
Several on the tour commented that it's a shame that this Moslem structure is preventing the Jews from building the third temple. I see this exquisite building as God's way to be sure that His people do not go back to their old ways, of trying to serve Him by keeping the law. When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, He said to her, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (Jn. 4:21-24). Worshipping what "you do not know" is not limited to the Samaritans, for to me, this is what the old City of Jerusalem represents. The pilgrims come from afar to kiss the stone where they may have laid Jesus' body, or to any number of other "holy sites," not knowing the truth of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple." (I Cor. 3:16-17). And again in II Cor. 6:16, Paul writes, "What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk with them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.'" For many pilgrims, there is no understanding of these passages. They have achieved their spiritual goals when they make the pilgrimage to these "holy shrines," which means that peace in the "holy land" is often forfeit as conflicting belief systems clash for supremacy and control of the physical sites themselves. When asked if the Jews plan to build the third temple, our guide demurred by saying that one problem is that they do not really know where the Holy of holies was, and without knowing that, it would be dangerous to build. Of course, since the Dome of the Rock sits over the site of Solomon's Temple, the likelihood is that this is where the most holy place actually was. As the year 2,000 dawned, many feared that either zealous Jews or fanatical Christians would try to bomb the Moslem structure in order for the temple to be rebuilt there so that Messiah could return. At that time, Israeli security was on heightened alert, which it still was when we came and went, or so it seemed to us. I had no fears at any time about going, either before we left, or while we were there, because I rest in the sure knowledge that God is in charge, and things will happen as He has ordained before the foundation of the world.
As we left the land of the patriarchs, I remembered Stephen's speech before the Sanhedrin. In it, he gives the whole history of God's dealings with His people, beginning with Abraham, and continuing on through the deliverance from Pharaoh in Egypt, the ministry of Moses, the wilderness wanderings, and on to the conquering of the land by Joshua. He concentrates on the tabernacle that the children of Israel carried with them until the time of David and Solomon. As you will recall, David asked to build a dwelling place for the God of Jacob, but it was Solomon who actually built the temple. Stephen refers to the "tabernacle of the Testimony" (Acts 7:44) because the primary contents of the desert tabernacle were the ark of the covenant and the two covenant tablets it contained, where were called "the Testimony" (See Ex. 25:16,21). Reading this, I found myself pondering the question, what happened to the Ark of the Covenant? I did a little sleuthing in the Bible. When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Solomon's Temple and carried off the people to Babylon, it says that, "As the LORD had declared, (notice who is giving the orders here) Nebuchadnezzar removed all the treasures from the temple of the LORD and from the royal palace, and took away all the gold articles that Solomon king of Israel had made for the temple of the LORD. He carried into exile all Jerusalem: all the officers and fighting men, and all the craftsmen and artisans, a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left" (II Kings 24:13-14). Chapter 25 goes on to say that they took everything of value in the temple, the gold and silver articles, censers and even the sprinkling bowls, with them. (II Kings 25:13-14; II Chr. 36: 7,10). Since the Ark of the Covenant, and all its trappings was overlaid with gold (Ex. 25: 10-22), it certainly was extremely valuable. So, my question is, if Nebuchadnezzar took it to Babylon with him, did he then return it with the other items he sent back with Ezra? It is not listed with the thousands of items sent back. (Ezra 1:7-11). The Babylonian monarch's instructions were very specific regarding the things he had stolen from the Lord's Temple in Jerusalem: "He even removed from the temple of Babylon the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem and brought to the temple in Babylon. Then King Cyrus gave them to a man named Sheshbazzar, whom he had appointed governor, and he told him, 'Take these articles and go and deposit them in the temple in Jerusalem. And rebuild the house of God on its site'" (Ezra 5:14-15).
The significance of the Ark of the Covenant can hardly be overestimated. It was the place where God was enthroned between the cherubim (I Sam. 4:4; II Sam. 6:2; II Kings 19:15; I Chr. 13:6; Ps. 80:1; 99:1; Isa. 37:16); it was where God met with the children of Israel and gave them His commands (Ex. 25:22; Lev. 16:2; Num. 17:4). Throughout their desert wanderings, it went before them as their standard and emblem: "Whenever the ark set out, Moses said. 'Rise up, O LORD! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you.' Whenever it came to rest, he said, 'Return, O LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel'" (Num. 10:35-36). There are many wonderful stories in the Old Testament about the significance of this physical location of God's presence in the midst of the troubled children of Israel. One of the stories involved the town of Beit Shemesh, which we passed through in our tour. This was the site where the Philistines hurriedly sent the Ark of the Covenant back to Israel. After they had captured it from the Israelites, God sent so many plagues and tumors on the people that they couldn't wait to be rid of its presence (I Sam. 4-6). The Philistines put it on a cart pulled by two cows who had never been yoked, and set them free while they followed to see where it went. The text reads, "Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh. Now the people of Beth Shemesh were harvesting their wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced at the sight. The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and there it stopped beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD" (I Sam. 6:12-14).
As I was running the references to the ark, and asking the Lord about it, I came to this very significant passage in Jeremiah. (He prophesied in Judah during the reign of Josiah and continued throughout the reigns of Jehoahaz, Jehoikim, Jehoichin and Zedekiah, the last king of Judea who was hauled away to Babylon by Nedbuchadnezzar). At the time of this prophecy, therefore, the Ark of the Covenant would still have been safely located in Solomon's Temple. However, in this passage, Jeremiah looks toward the day when it will be missing in action. He says, "In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land," declares the LORD, "men will no longer say, 'The ark of the covenant of the LORD.' It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made. At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the LORD, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the LORD. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts. In those days the house of Judah will join the house of Israel, and together they will come from a northern land to the land I gave your forefathers as an inheritance" (Jer. 3:16-18). This echoes Isaiah's great prophecy that "The glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it" (Is. 40:5) even without the presence of the Ark of the Covenant which contained His Shekinah glory for so many generations (Ex. 40:34-35; Lev. 9:23; Num. 14:14; 16:42; 20:6; I Kings 8:11; II Chr. 7:1-3; Ezek. 10:4; Hab. 2:14; Heb. 9:5). Many Jews insist that the Ark of the Covenant is hidden somewhere, waiting to be discovered, but if so, God has done a good job of keeping His secret, and Jeremiah makes it clear who is calling the shots in Israel:
"I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon," declares the LORD, "and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin. I will banish from them the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. "But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt," declares the LORD, "and will make it desolate forever" (Jer. 25:9-12).
God is still calling the shots in Israel, and it comes to me that were the Ark of the Covenant to be found intact today, it would be yet one more icon for man to worship and fight over. And where would it rest? There is no temple left, no Holy of holies to house it. God meant what He said to us through Stephen and Paul. I've already quoted two verses in which Paul says that we are the temple of God. Therefore, the Ark of the Covenant is within us, because our covenant with God rests on His promise to Abraham (Ps. 105:42-43; Rom. 4:13,16; Gal. 3:18; Heb. 6:13), secured and sealed by the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:11-28). As Stephen was finishing his magnificent speech to the Sanhedrin, the one which sealed his death sentence, he concluded, "However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me?' says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?'" (Acts 7:48-50).
The absolute sovereignty of God rings with crystal clear tones throughout the Bible and over the land of Israel today. In days of yore, God sent His servants the prophets to call the people to repentance, to warn them, to set forth their punishment for failure to obey, and to gladden their hearts with what He Himself would do. Isaiah was one of Israel's most influential prophets, who alternately scolded, cajoled and encouraged the people. He often broke forth in exultation about the wonder of God's plan for His people, the seed of Abraham: "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more" (Isa. 65:17-19). This brings to mind a passage which I thought about the whole time we were in Jerusalem, which today is still only a type and shadow of the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother from heaven (Gal. 4:26).
"I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life" (Rev. 21:2-6).
Faithful pilgrims from all over the world come to the modern city of Jerusalem today seeking solace and approbation of their faith. Yet, many are looking for that which cannot be touched with human hands. The title of this journal is taken from Hebrews 12:18. "You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm." The place where we have come, the Hebrew writer says is far better than one which can be touched with human hands: "But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel" (Heb. 12:22-24). This trip with its elegant icons and spiritual symbols will live in my heart and influence my thinking for the rest of my life, but traveling to Israel is very expensive, physically exhausting, and fraught with jetlag. Traveling to the heavenly Jerusalem, on the other hand, is a moment by moment encounter with the Living God who lives within each one of us. He dwells within our hearts, where "We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man" (Heb. 8:1-2). I fell in love with Jerusalem and by God's grace, hope to go there again in this life, but I know that it is not "the real deal," as they say, but merely a shadow of good things to come: "For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come" (Heb. 13:14). In that city which is being revealed in each of our hearts, all the prophecies of old will be yeah and amen: "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest" (Heb. 8:10-11). As it was written, so let it be done in our lives.
Jan Austin Antonsson
End Note A. "Primrose Path to Gehenna," an in-depth study of the origins of the doctrine of endless punishment.
Jan & Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Primrose Path to Gehenna
Pictures of our trip
The Glory Road
We would enjoy hearing from you
This journal was uploaded to the web on 3/9/2000
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister
and last edited on 11/5/08.